Bulgarian PM to discuss security of air space with visiting US defence chief

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov will discuss with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin the security of Bulgarian air space when Austin visits Sofia this week.

Earlier, the Pentagon said that Austin, whose visits to Brussels for a Nato defence ministers’ meeting, and to Slovakia, had been announced earlier, had tacked on a visit to Bulgaria’s capital city for talks with civilian and military leaders.

Petkov, whose country’s Air Force jet fighter complement consists of a small number of serviceable if ageing Soviet-made MiG-29s, said that the notion that these fighters could be serviced in Russia was “completely absurd”.

“This cannot happen at the moment, to send hundreds of millions of Putin,” Petkov said.

“Now the question is what are we doing so that the Bulgarian sky is sufficiently protected, how we are coordinating with the Alliance and what we are doing to ensure that Bulgarian pilots maintain their ability to fly and, with the aircraft we currently have, are there other places where they can be repaired, but the idea is to send these through some secondary companies planes to Russia is complete nonsense,” Petkov said.

For several years, Nato allies have assisted Bulgaria in air policing. Currently, Spanish Air Force fighters are deployed in Bulgaria to bolster this task, and they are to be succeeded by Dutch fighter jets.

The fact that Bulgaria sends Air Force aircraft, including its MiG-29s and SU-25s, to Russia and the Kremlin’s satrap Belarus, has been a matter of security concerns for years.

A move some years ago by a Bulgarian defence minister of the time to switch the overhaul of the Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29s from Russia to Nato ally Poland resulted in protests from the Kremlin and a criminal prosecution, the latter coming to nothing.

On March 15, Petkov visited border checkpoints with Romania, saying that Bulgaria had been one of the first countries in the European Union to provide temporary protection to those fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“The registration system is working, all institutions are acting in coordination and we have full control over the process from the entry of refugees to their accommodation in our country,” Petkov told reporters, visiting a Danube Bridge border checkpoint.

Petkov said that the pre-admission points would be open 24 hours a day while the temporary protection system for Ukrainian refugees was in effect.

The Prime Minister was due on the evening of March 15 to visit Varna municipality’s refugee centre at the Palace of Culture and Sports.

The centre has been the subject of Bulgarian-language media reports that the centre, effectively run by volunteers, has been run off its feet in the absence of proper support from the Bulgarian state.

For the rest of The Sofia Globe’s continuing coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, please click here.

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